After the Quake

March 11th, 2011

After the shaking stopped, I tiptoed through the stuff covering the floor, and went through the building, helping the staff tell everyone to get out and collect outside. I quickly grabbed my laptop, bag, and jacket–as well as my bike helmet–and headed downstairs. Everyone was gathered out on the street. Phones were down–and still are, 4 hours later–as was text messaging. 3G Internet was still available, but for 15-20 minutes after the quake, no news services had anything. It took a bit longer than that before I found a Google News story about a 7.9 quake, but no news site would load enough to get other information.

As we waited out on the street, we could see the 40-story high-rise being built to our north, with four giant construction cranes towering over it–and even in the aftershocks, those cranes were swinging around like tree branches in a heavy wind.

I hit an incredibly lucky break of sorts today. As we needed documents from city hall for our upcoming home purchase, I decided this morning, on the spur of the moment, to take my scooter. I hardly ever do that anymore; I drive in maybe only once every two months nowadays. But I did this morning, and it was a fairly major break for me. From what I hear, trains are still not running, and one can only imagine the crowds when they start up again. I have heard that as many as 70 students at my school are still there, and may have to sleep there until trains start up again, maybe not even tonight. (I am Skype texting with one of them as I type this, in fact.)

The first thing I did was to take my scooter to the local gas stand; I didn’t think I had enough fuel to get me all the way home. I actually figured that the gas stations, naturally, would be shut down–but surprisingly, they were not. In fact, far from the long lines I imagined, there was almost no one there. I filled up and scooted over to the school grounds where everyone had gone. People shared stories–being on the subway, having relatives near the epicenter, speculation about the effects, and so forth–and otherwise just tried to recover from the event. Several of my students and I had planned to go to Akihabara tomorrow to buy computer parts of the Computer Making Club; when I suggested we postpone the trip, at least one student–who wants to make her own computer alongside ours–was very disappointed.

After it seemed clear that I would not be of any use, I did what I had been planning to do but was torn over: go home. On the one hand, I felt like a selfish heel, scooting on home while everyone else stood around in a dirt yard in the windy cold with probably no way to get home until the next day. But I also was unable to contact Sachi, and fearing she was even more worried about me than I was about her, well, that won over. By this time, it was about 50 minutes after the quake had struck.

As I started driving home, I noted so many people outside, especially with their dogs. So many had left their buildings and gathered outside. Offices were beginning to shut down, and people in the city were beginning to go home the only way they could–by walking. People were out on the streets in numbers, with crowds at every bus stop. The buses, overcrowded of course, were the only way many people had of getting even close to home. The trains were down, of course, and I certainly would not have wanted to try to flag down a taxi just then.

Interestingly, traffic itself was rather normal. I expected a huge traffic jam, a parking lot from one end to the other–but that wasn’t how it was. Instead, the streets were no more crowded than usual. I drove down Ome Boulevard, and while there was congestion here and there, it was not something I would be surprised at on any day.

As it happened, my brother and his wife live right along the route I was taking, so I stopped by. My sister-in-law was home, but my brother was still at work, and they were communicating by Skype. Just as I left, he indicated he would walk home–a three-and-a-half mile walk, but it was the only way. I got back on my scooter and continued going.

There was really no special damage along the way. Oh, fire trucks were present here and there, and a few old buildings seemed to need some help, but mostly it looked like business as usual. Businesses, in fact, were still open, everything except the trains seemed to be operating as usual. Every red light, I would get out my phone and retry texting Sachi, though it didn’t work all the way home.

Finally, I got home, and Sachi was there, doing fine. Some furniture had moved a few inches, and there was some spilling on the floor, but nothing broke and everything seemed OK. The electricity is still on everywhere I could see, the Internet never went offline, and water is running–but the gas is off, at least in our apartment. There may be an emergency switch somewhere, I’ll have to check that out.

About an hour ago, I got through to someone on my cell phone, but that was the only call that went through–I have not been able to make calls before or since. We had nabe for dinner–a stew you boil right there at the table. We used an IH (induction heating) hotplate, while continuing to watch the nonstop news on TV.

So, we’re just fine here–Tokyo was not hardest hit by far–but we’re still getting hit by aftershocks. A rather big one just hit, the 20th or so quake that, on any other day, would rate its own little blog post. We expect these will keep happening for a while.

Quite a day.

  1. March 11th, 2011 at 23:42 | #1

    Hi Luis, thanks for the info. Keep it coming.

    Dan Eck

  2. Tim Kane
    March 12th, 2011 at 00:33 | #2

    Thanks for the updates. Stay safe.

  3. March 12th, 2011 at 01:33 | #3

    Luis, I am greatly relieved to hear reports that all at LCJ are safe. Know that you all are very much in the thoughts, conversations, and prayers of a lot of folks in Wisconsin right now.

  4. Kitty
    March 12th, 2011 at 03:26 | #4

    So glad you and your family are fine. Thanks for the news.

  5. March 12th, 2011 at 03:55 | #5

    Glad to hear you and Sachi are ok. I really appreciate reading your descriptions. Thanks for posting during this difficult time.


  6. Troy
    March 12th, 2011 at 04:31 | #6

    well, hopefully that was the biggest one you’ll have to go through . . .

    I feel for the people around Sendai. I’ve been there once and I liked all the pine trees they have, it reminded me of coastal San Mateo County.

    But seeing that black tsunami roll over people’s homes and farms was just unreal, like something out of a disaster anime.

    Recovering from this is going to be so very hard for so many thousands of people. It looks like the entire economy of coastal Tohoku has been destroyed, what little they had — farms and fishing industry.

    The flood didn’t get too far inland I guess, but where it did go it wiped people out.

    Central Honshu had been swarming with earthquakes this past week, so I guess that was the warning maybe.

    This picture:

    shows that Sendai is actually on the same plate I am on now here in Sunnyvale.

    The Pacific Plate is being created in the SE Pacific, and pushed alongside (strike-slip fault) California, and into and under Alaska, NE Asia, and NE Japan (subduction faults).

  7. Paul
    March 12th, 2011 at 07:02 | #7

    I immediately thought of you over there, and am happy to read that you are doing okay.

    Lots of death and injuries and destruction on the news here, of course. Hope things aren’t as bad as they are making it look.

  8. Ken sensei
    March 12th, 2011 at 13:38 | #8

    Hey Luis,

    Hope you and Sachi are holding up okay during these stressful times. I imagine each new aftershock is a grim reminder of what passed yesterday.

    Troy said it best; let’s hope this is the biggest earthquake you will have to endure. I know it is far bigger than any I have endured.

    Try and keep a positive outlook; one day you can look back on this as the day ‘the big one’ hit. A story to tell your grandkids, haha…

    Seriously, we’re glad to know you are safe. It’s a time for prayer and sympathy for the hundreds who perished.



  9. March 12th, 2011 at 15:09 | #9

    Hi, Luis — Thanks for the updates. Glad you and everyone there are OK. Praying for your all. Let us know if / when there is anything we can do to help. Stay safe!

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